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Est. April 5, 2002

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last book, "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?" was prescient in that it laid out his vision of the large house of America in which we all have to live together in peace and harmony irrespective of our race and ethnicity, creed, and equality of socioeconomic status. He dedicated his life to nonviolent struggle, and his effort to achieve these ends led to his assassination.

We have just celebrated the national holiday of his birthday and the end of the four-year autocratic reign of our recently departed President, Donald J. Trump. While in office, Trump did severe damage to public education and our political institutions, and he did his best to lead the nation as an autocrat. His tenure is a blot on America’s legacy.

As President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris begin their term, they will face major challenges in repairing the harm Trump has done. While addressing the coronavirus pandemic, public education must be high on their list of priorities. Having already stated that they are eager to reopen the nation’s public schools, they must recognize that it is imperative that they not leave the schools as they are.

The schools of children from low-income families of color - Native American, Latinx, African American, and Asian and Pacific Islanders - who have been disproportionately savaged by COVID-19 need to be upgraded in terms of resources. Dr. King viewed public education as essential to securing and maintaining the rights of minority and majority citizens alike. He wanted it funded and maintained for the benefit of all.

Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, undermined these efforts in every way she could - relaxing civil rights protections, reducing federal support of K-12 public education and redirecting and increasing federal funding to charter, voucher, and other private schools. But one of her major failures was to ignore the lead crisis in our schools.

Although it emerged as a public health crisis during the Obama-Biden administration, it was largely ignored then and continues to be ignored today. Lead content in water in low-income urban households and schools in urban areas is ravaging a generation of minority children who make up the overwhelming majority of all public school students.

The crisis was highlighted on April 25, 2014 when Flint, Michigan’s city officials, at the direction of then Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (who is currently on trial for negligence in this matter) switched the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the contaminated Flint River in order to save money in the operation of the struggling city. This move sent lead-poisoned water into homes and ignited a massive public-health crisis for the state of Michigan.

Subsequent investigations revealed that this disaster was also silently poisoning children of color in other large cities - Newark, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Milwaukee - all helmed by Democratic mayors, several of whom are African Americans. The attendant politics hid this problem for the last seven years as conditions worsened.

Thus, poor children of color are being victimized by the coronavirus and lead poisoning simultaneously. Therefore, reopening schools, which is first on the Biden-Harris education agenda, will have almost no impact on this larger challenge to the education of the fastest growing segments of the nation’s K-12 public education system - children of color who currently make up a rapidly increasing majority.

Next, the Democrats, who are now in charge of all three branches of the federal elected government, must develop strategies to maintain and grow their slim majorities and adopt a fresh approach to their politics in order to avoid the emergence of another Trump-like figure who is smarter and smoother around the political and personal edges.

Three are currently waiting in the wings of the Republican Party: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Tom Cotton (R-AR). Dr. King belatedly recognized that such right-wing conservatives are crafty in hiding their true reactionary and dictatorial plans. King’s movements in Albany, Georgia in 1961 and Chicago, Illinois in 1966 failed.

In his Albany, Georgia crusade, Police Chief Laurie Pritchett used more humane methods to push back against civil rights protestors. Mayor Richard J. Daley employed similar tactics in Chicago and also deployed senior African American clergy, led by Rev. Joseph Jackson, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc. to criticize King.

King had been a former member of the organization, and Chicago-area Black ministers were able to derail his 1966 Chicago, Illinois demonstrations. The African American clergy attacked him from their pulpits, further undermining him within Black and liberal White communities. King carried these lessons with him throughout the rest of his life.

Thus, President Biden must be careful and highly skeptical in believing that he can cajole and persuade Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to support his agenda for the nation. Former President Barack Obama has already learned the folly of that approach. Like Dr. King, Biden must be mindful that when politically riven divisions are undergirded by race and a Republican commitment to reinstituting political and social Apartheid, he needs to focus on expanding his base.

Biden must be ever mindful that he was the beneficiary of communities of color’s intense dissatisfaction with an autocrat, strong turnout, and Stacey Abrams and her allies winning of Georgia for him twice: first, for his election and second, for his ability to govern. He needs to recognize these realities, get his approach to public education and politics right, and proceed accordingly. Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell and BC.

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is published  Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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